Art by Beep Skeet
At the church, in the darkness.
I toss the bound-up man onto the ground and look up into the dimly-lit chapel. R8PR’s shining green LED eyes flicker into light and I see him step forward. He gives a few loud, metallic claps as he looks on at the man.
I glance over to Karina, who is leaning against a church pew and breathing heavily. I know exactly how you feel. We’ve been through a lot this past morning.
“You don’t understand!” the man shouts. “The end is coming! We have to be ready! I was just preparing for–” R8PR holds out his fingers and electricity surges out of them and zaps the man unconscious.
“He’s pretty annoying, isn’t he?”
“And he’s all yours now,” I say.
“I will most certainly make good use of him. Was it a tough fight?” he asks.
“Yeah. You have no idea,” I say, wiping the sweat off my brow.
“That had to have been the hardest fight we ever got in,” Karina says. “I really didn’t think we were gonna make it.”
“If you hadn’t leapt out from the side like that, I probably would have lost a kidney,” I tell her. “I don’t want to lose a kidney.”
“At least this settles which one of us is the better fighter,” Karina says.
“I think that one was obvious from the beginning, Mr. Punchmaster,” I say.
“It really seems like you two have started to form a real team together, and I’m proud of that,” R8PR says. “This fight was always going to be really dangerous and I’m glad you both came out alright.”
The man in question is known as The Vampire.
He’ no Social Media Killer, but he certainly almost got me killed. The Vampire is a criminal with great technological prowess and equipment stolen from Sakaguchi Automations, where Karina’s father works. He uses his cybernetic armor to fly around in the night and pick up prey like an eagle. When he’s captured a victim, he uses advanced laser systems to cut out their internal organs and then sew them up to hide any trace of the attack. Usually, he takes non-vital organs and sells them on the black market, but recently, he had taken to new heights, outright killing people by snatching their hearts.
Which is when we stepped in.
It was tough tracking him down, and getting him captured, but The Vampire is now under R8PR’s custody. And that’s not a good position to be in for anybody.
R8PR chuckles, though with his synthesized voice it sounds more like the beginning of a dance song than actual laughter. “The Vampire is equipped with some seriously impressive technology. I think after I strip it all from him I might install some of it in myself, especially these lasers… But this man, this villainy, is yet another troubling sign of the times,” he begins.
“Oh no, not this spiel again,” I whine.
“You two have both experienced it firsthand. The technological threats across Atlanta have been multiplying in number. The greedy corporations continue to develop nefarious devices that fall into the wrong hands, learning absolutely nothing from what happened with Dreamtech and Mayor Epstein and everything else. There are anti-technology groups and anti-government rebels popping up on my radar recently, and I can only imagine it’s going to get worse from here, what with the new Mayoral election later this year.”
“So what does this all mean?” Karina asks. “Is this also related to the ‘Ascendants’ thing that Jones was warning us about?”
“Can’t make any inferences there,” he says. “But with Blyth Industries being investigated, politicians aiming for the top spot in the city, and extremist groups starting to rabble rouse, what’s cooking here probably won’t taste very good.”
“I thought we were still on the ‘water-floodgates-storm’ metaphor with the ominous Atlanta prediction stuff,” I say.
He ignores me. “We still have classic criminals like The Vampire here, but all three of us had better be careful about where we’re treading, because I highly doubt he’ll remain your most dangerous opponent for long.”
I sure hope that isn’t the case. The Vampire was a battle for the ages, and dodging those lasers while delivering the final punch was among the coolest moments in my otherwise-lackluster career as a crime fighting alleged-hero. I would prefer it to remain that way.
“Ah, on that note,” Karina says. “Morgan, I know we decided this before we got in a huge mystery adventure thing, but are you still up for some more research on the Social Media Killer today?”
“Yeah, I think I can handle it. I’m a bit tired, but there’s nothing Morgan Harding can’t do with some jumping jacks and a few cans of coffee!”
“You sound pretty tired,” she says.
“Yeah… But I’ll be fine.”
“Hm, sounds like you two have been making some progress lately,” R8PR says.
“Actually, not really much of anything,” I say. “Jones is once again excellent at covering her tracks. I doubt we will ever find her unless she ends up revealing herself or something.”
“Heh. I believe in you,” he says. “I’m giving you my best regards.”
“You are doing some research on your own, aren’t you?” Karina asks.
“My fair share. Nothing worth mentioning.”
“Well, hopefully Morgan and I will find something really juicy today! C’mon, let’s hurry over to the Data Farm and get some stuff done.”
“Alright, alright,” I say.
We exit the abandoned church and start the long walk towards the nearest bus stop.
“Do you think he’s hiding something?” Karina asks.
“Yeah, of course I do. Never for a moment do I think he’s telling the full truth. But in this case? I don’t know.”
“Something tells me there’s something to Jones he knows and isn’t telling us about. But… I don’t know what. I think we really need to start searching for her more seriously because things are starting to get more heated.”
“Well, we’ll figure it out, together,” I say. “We always do.”
To say that Karina is a life-saver would not just be flattery or exaggeration. She literally saved my life a few hours ago in our fight with The Vampire. Without much specific training, we’ve somehow become something of a team together, a dynamic duo. The way we battled together, almost wordlessly but completely in-sync, was impressive enough that any TV producer would have swooped in and given us a pilot order. Morgan and Karina: Metro Warriors! or something like that. I imagine it’d be like The Green Hornet: Karina’s a semi-wealthy heiress who uses her father’s advanced technology to patrol the streets and fight crime, with me serving as her dashing and extremely attractive masked sidekick. Wait a minute, I’m not the sidekick here, am I?
I look at Karina again and wonder really how she feels about all this, about saving Atlanta from certain doom time and time again. A year ago, we hardly knew each other. She was just some college kid working a part-time job who occasionally ate in the same food court as me. But for some reason, she got sucked into my world of underworld dangers, and I imagine it was mostly against her own will. She’s become a steadfast partner in all of this, but does she actually like it? Does she wish she never met me, so she could keep on trekking in her already far-too-busy life?
It’s not like I have the ability to ask something like that, not without starting a conversation I’m not sure I want to ever have. Karina seems fine. She seems to enjoy it, as much one can enjoy risking their life on a regular basis. But I can’t help but shake that feeling she’s not supposed to be here, like she’s meant for something more than being part of a dynamic duo. With her work ethic, she could be halfway to being Sakaguchi’s CEO by now.
Maybe I should have been the sidekick here. What if, in some weird twist of fate, it had been Karina who had met R8PR, who had run in with Coop Yates and the others, who had gained extraordinary abilities and been tasked with keeping Atlanta safe from technological criminals? How would she have handled the events of the Social Media Killer’s attacks if she had been the one assaulted in her home? How would she have prevented the MARTA incident with Athena Supreme, or the Cybermancer revenge plot by Moonslash?
It’s all just mindless what-ifs, but there’s something that tells me that someone like Karina would have done a better job than someone like me. Without her, I’d be about as motivated to try and be a hero as I am currently motivated to go to work tomorrow morning.
Karina seems to notice my pondering and looks over to me, raising her eyebrows in curiosity. “What’s up?”
“Nothing. Just thinking.”
Just thinking about the fact that you, Karina, are one of the most important people in my life, and that without you I’d be an ambitionless nomad in this urban jungle.
…Was that too cheesy?
I’m glad it was just me thinking these things and nobody else was able to bear witness to such an awful string of words. Well, besides you, but you don’t really count.
Just thinking of Karina at this point is making me blush, and it’s really embarrassing because she’s right there. I don’t want to address the implications of this, so I’m going to ignore it and focus on the important thing: making sure the two of us find out where Jones Burrow went and what she may be doing right now.
We make it to the bus stop and get on our way towards the Data Farm.